Europe's soils deserve better management

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Maintaining or improving the health of Europe's soils is one of the most important challenges in preserving our livelihood. We need to be aware of the quality of our soil in order to react in time. As a first step towards better and sustainable management of the EU's soil, the EESC proposes a joint EU reference framework with a view to lay down uniform terminology and harmonised criteria for good soil status. Landowners and users have a special role in providing ecosystem services in relation to European soil, and they need the EU's support. A modernised Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) should therefore contain a special focus on the health and fertility of farmland and soil. Moreover, Member States should be encouraged to adopt appropriate soil protection measures under the second pillar of the CAP.

Every decade, Europe loses an area of arable land the size of a Member State

Soil matters are one of the Estonian Presidency's main priorities and are also topical in light of a recent European Citizens' Initiative (ECI). One of the main objectives of this ECI is to "recognise soil as a shared heritage that needs EU level protection, as it provides essential benefits connected to human well-being and environmental resilience". At its plenary session in October, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion on Land use for sustainable food production and ecosystem services, a request from the Estonian Presidency of the EU. "With our opinion, we want to raise awareness," says Roomet Sõrmus, rapporteur of the opinion. "We often treat our soil as if it was abundant. Within a period of only six years, from 2006 to 2012, the annual land take in the European countries was approximately 107 000 ha/year, which translates into losing an area of arable land the size of Cyprus within less than 10 years. This enormous demand for land must be stopped".

A reference framework for sustainable soil management

In all Member States, the loss of agricultural land due to soil degradation, the abandonment of land, climate change and urbanisation poses a serious problem. Soil is not only important for food production but also for a variety of other ecosystem services. "Our soils need to be protected. A joint EU soil reference framework defining good soil status, laying down uniform terminology and harmonised criteria for monitoring, and defining priority policy measures would be of decisive importance for the sustainable use and protection of agricultural soil," says Mr Sõrmus.

The CAP needs to consider the critical role of European soils for our livelihood

Farmers play an essential role in providing food and ecosystem services, a role that must be recognised. The challenges agriculture is facing are as varied as Europe itself, including maintaining biodiversity, promoting sustainable farming practices, increasing production efficiency, reducing pressure on land use, etc. Brendan Burns, President of the Agriculture Section of the EESC: "These aspects, which are very important for the health and fertility of farmland and soil, as well as for its various ecosystem services, such as water and carbon reservoirs, must be taken into account when shaping and re-shaping the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)".